Pro­to­types pave the way for PLA Air Force boost

Trans­port plane and jet fighter about to en­ter ini­tial stage of pro­duc­tion, mil­i­tary ob­servers say

China Daily (Canada) - - TOP NEWS - By ZHAO LEI zhaolei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Air Force will soon re­ceive a sig­nif­i­cant boost to its aerial com­bat and trans­porta­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to mil­i­tary ob­servers.

The fifth-gen­er­a­tion J-20 jet fighter and the Y-20 heavy-lift­ing trans­port­plan­eare­aboutto en­ter the ini­tial pro­duc­tion stage, the ob­servers said.

In late De­cem­ber, pho­to­graphs show­ing a new pro­to­type of the J-20 stealth fighter were pub­lished by avi­a­tion en­thu­si­asts on Chi­nese mil­i­tary web­sites.

The air­craft, coated with yel­low primer paint and bear­ing the se­rial num­ber 2101, was re­ported to be un­der­go­ing taxi­ing tests at an air­field op­er­ated by Chengdu Air­craft In­dus­try Group.

In early Jan­uary, en­thu­si­asts posted pho­tos on the In­ter­net of the two lat­est pro­to­types of the Y-20, num­bered 785 and 788, say­ing they were un­der­go­ing flight tests.

Wang Ya’nan, deputy ed­i­torin-chief of Aero­space Knowl­edge mag­a­zine, said the new­est J-20 pro­to­type must be tested to ex­am­ine tech­ni­cal changes de­sign­ers made to it based on test re­sults from ear­lier pro­to­types.

“The ap­pear­ance of the 2101 in­di­cates that the Avi­a­tion In­dus­try Corp of China is pre­par­ing for the low-rate ini­tial pro­duc­tion stage,” Wang said.

This stage is where the man­u­fac­turer car­ries out tests and the end-user gets to un­der­stand a prod­uct’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties be­fore pro­duc­tion starts.

“Once the tests are car­ried out suc­cess­fully, small-scale pro­duc­tion will be­gin and the PLA Air Force will be­come the world’s se­cond user of a fifth­gen­er­a­tion stealth fighter (fol­low­ing the United States Air Force),” Wang said.

He an­tic­i­pates that the first of the J-20s will be de­liv­ered to the mil­i­tary around 2017.

China staged the maiden flight of the J-20 in Jan­uary 2011 and has pro­duced 10 pro­to­types, in­clud­ing the 2101, since then. Be­fore the 2101, all pro­to­types were coated with dark-col­ored paint that ex­perts sug­gested had stealth ca­pa­bil­ity.

“I think the rea­son the 2101 was not painted with stealth ma­te­ri­als is sim­ple,” Wang said.

“First, such ma­te­ri­als must have been suc­cess­ful in pre­vi­ous pro­to­type tests, so that fur­ther tests are not nec­es­sary. Se­cond, stealth paint is very ex­pen­sive and should not be wasted in tests. Fi­nally, it would be eas­ier for de­sign­ers to see how the plane’s primer coat­ing wears af­ter flights.”

Gao Zhuo, a mil­i­tary ob­server in Shang­hai, said the new­est J-20 is likely to be used by PLA pi­lots to fa­mil­iar­ize crew with the cut­ting-edge air­craft.

He said China will soon face a big chal­lenge in Asia-Pa­cific airspace from the F-22 Rap­tor and F-35 Light­ning II stealth war­planes to be de­ployed by the US and Ja­pan, and this is why China is de­vel­op­ing its ad­vanced air­craft so quickly.

Wang also said the Y-20 is needed badly by the PLA be­cause it lacks “a fast and re­li­able plat­form” to pro­ject its power over­seas.

He said the ap­pear­ance of two new pro­to­types shows that de­vel­op­ment of the Y-20 is pro­gress­ing well and that mass pro­duc­tion of the plane can start, en­abling it to be de­liv­ered to the PLA in 2017 at the ear­li­est.

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